The success of Sao Paulo's way of funding science has made it a model throughout Brazil, Luís Amorim reports.
[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil's scientific research has been growing, with the country surpassing countries such as Switzerland and Sweden in number of scientific papers published, reaching 15th place in the world, according to the SCImago Journal and Country ranking.
It contributes 2.3 per cent of the world's research papers — up from only 0.8 per cent 16 years ago. Brazil also accounts for 55 per cent of articles published by Latin American countries.
This growth of Brazilian science is largely the result of public investment by the federal government and state governments, through state foundations for research support.
“Sao Paulo produces 50 per cent of Brazilian science.”
Celso Lafer, FAPESP
And much of this growth has been spearheaded by the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), whose model of using state tax money to fund independent research has been taken up by many other states over the past five decades.
The investment has paid off.
"Sao Paulo produces 50 per cent of Brazilian science," Celso Lafer, president of FAPESP, tells SciDev.Net.
In 2012, FAPESP made a record investment of US$524 million, and has been holding meetings around the world, called 'FAPESP Weeks', to celebrate its 50th anniversary. One is taking place at the Royal Society, the UK's science academy, this week (25-27 September) in London.
But how has FAPESP become such a key player in funding Brazil's soaring research and what were the building blocks behind its success?
FAPESP traces its origins back to 1947, when researchers and academics drafted a support document and sent it to the assembly that was writing the constitution to lobby parliamentarians for a foundation to boost science and technology research.
The document led to Article 123 of the Sao Paulo Constitution, adopted in July 1947, which stated that "scientific research will be fostered by the state, through a foundation".
FAPESP had to wait 13 years for a new law to be passed before it could become established. It began functioning in 1962 by a decree of the governor of the state of Sao Paulo.
Ennio Candotti, a physicist and former president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, became one of FAPESP's first scholarship recipient. Candotti was admitted in 1963.
He says FAPESP's creation "made the system of support for research much more dynamic".
Still, he says, more can be done to strengthen the autonomy of state foundations, such as FAPESP.
FAPESP supports all areas of research through grants and scholarships.
Scholarships support students in their doctoral or master's courses: in 2012, there were worth a total of about US$187 million.
Grants are given to projects headed by researchers linked to higher education institutes in Sao Paulo — the total spent on these reached US$337 million in 2012.
Scholarships and grants are awarded through three main funding categories that support different aspects of research: Regular Line, Special Programs and Research Innovation, which includes projects for developing new technologies with practical applications.
Lafer says funding for research with practical applications, which, in 2012, came to US$39 million, was only possible after a state constitution in 1989 raised the amount given to FAPESP from 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of state tax revenues. This makes up 80 per cent of FAPESP's income.
He says FAPESP's secure income means it can support large projects within the Regular Line for up to five years, and projects in the Research Innovation category for up to 11 years, "to become autonomous centres in the development of research at the frontier of knowledge", he says.
One of FAPESP's main strengths is environmental research, with three main environmental programmes located in the Research Innovation category: the Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN), the Research Program on Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of the Biodiversity of the State of Sao Paulo (BIOTA), and the Research Program on Global Climate Change.
In 2012, FAPESP spent approximately US$17.5 million on these three programmes alone.
“Research programmes focused on key issues for the state, such as BIOEN and BIOTA, continually bring results of scientific, economic and social impact.”
Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP
"Research programmes focused on key issues for the state, such as BIOEN and BIOTA, continually bring results of scientific, economic and social impact," says Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP's scientific director.
He also highlights support for cooperative research with companies. A recent evaluation of a programme to support research in small businesses showed that for every dollar spent by FAPESP there was a return of almost ten dollars for the company, including increased revenue and new sources of funding.
Where FAPESP could now do more, says Candotti, is in strengthening its outreach and engagement with the general public.
Making global connections
Increasing FAPESP's international reach has been a challenge for the foundation, says Brito Cruz.
It is making progress though. FAPESP has established partnerships with 42 higher education institutions outside Brazil and 22 foreign research funding agencies, plus four companies in the United Kingdom and the United States.
At the upcoming event in London, FAPESP will push for more international collaboration in research areas including biodiversity, biofuels, climate change, genomics and nanotechnology.
It also seeks to support foreign researchers and students who are interested in doing research in Sao Paulo.
Model for the nation
Today the state of Sao Paulo has 22 per cent of all scientists in the country, with FAPESP "fundamental ... to the economic, social and intellectual development of the state of Sao Paulo," says Brito Cruz.
But the benefits are also spread to other states.
"Eighteen per cent of researchers supported by FAPESP after graduation work in other Brazilian states," he tells SciDev.Net.
Brito Cruz believes FAPESP's success is due to its guaranteed annual income and autonomy of operation.
The FAPESP model is also praised by Candotti. He tells SciDev.Net that over the last 20 years scientists and scientific societies inspired by FAPESP have fought to have the same guaranteed annual resources and autonomy.
"Eighteen of the 26 Brazilian states have included in their constitutions articles with this aim [of supporting research], with varying percentages of tax revenue," he says.
Although, unlike Sao Paulo, "some of these states do not exactly follow the transfers they should".
He adds that these resources mean greater autonomy for scientific research by avoiding political pressure and short-termism.
According to Candotti, it has been possible in some states to make strategic plans for scientific research and human resource training.
"Long-term planning is a key issue," he says.
FAPESP is one of SciDev.Net's donors.